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CCK Pantomime 2007
Written & Directed by Andy Back
Musical Director: Neil Corin
Executive Producer: Dave Fellingham
It was a long, complicated, expensive and often wearying journey to bring this hefty script from fingertip to stage, but we got there, and what a triumph!
A cast of huge energy and willingness to serve took the Clarendon Centre by storm as three lively crowds (none more so than the hooligans of Friday night) enjoyed their silliness, antics, dancing brilliance and the sparkling wit and banter so lovingly provided by the Baritone Author of Wonder, as I am now known.
Chris Yeo and Edward Rhodes (as Jester & Fool) recited their poetry with verve and a hint of a smile, eyes a-twinkle, wooing the audience into a false sense of insecurity. Al Birch (Colour Blind Pugh) wore a wig of indeterminate wisdom and strutted, adrenaline-besotted, with wild passion as Sophie Yule (Peter Pan) and Eli Reeves (Shadow One) eagerly kept up with him. The hearts of the crowd warmed to Peter and the confusion of the crowd went out to Shadow One; and the antics of Pugh didn’t seem too bad, so no small children were frightened or alarmed. In fact, the baddie didn’t seem too bad, which was nice.
Testosterone flowed freely as Heather Edwards (as Wendy Mood-Takesya, nee Darling) appeared, nightie and hair all a-flowing. Her opening speech caught the imagination as extreme flights of fancy juxtaposed themselves with her powerful, tuneful voice. And then we were off into the first number, with three chairs, Merril Bain on vocals, a huge band, dancing, spangle and the Tamplin Light Show doing it’s best to lead the way.
Act Two began with more of the Rhodes/Yeo Roadshow and with the sacrificial slaughter of any pretence at legitimate theatre. Dave Fahrer’s Dame (Cook ReadySteady) was loud, brash, gruff, rude, sexy with an horrifyingly unnerving style, as well as being friendly, narrative and victimised in other ways, which isn’t bad when all you’re doing is introducing characters and set. Bos’un Bilges (the much-loved Doug Reid) spat biscuit at the front row and we were off. His handsomeness is never doubted, but he wasn’t particularly winsome at this point, it has to be said. Be that as it may, it’s not important right now.
Harvey McBride (as Jim Ladd, nee John Kidd) won any wondering hearts, taking charge of the poop deck and Captain Long John Silver (played with vast confidence, power, skill and believability by the lovely Tracy Law). Her dramatic entrance through the crowd, parrot a-shoulder and prosthetic limb indistinguishable from a real one (lucky, that) brought a gasp of fear and a barrage of booing, which tended to make her seem more of a baddie than was originally intended. But it worked, so no complaints.
The Caribbean-wondering began, with an oscar-deserving bit of direction causing the entire company, including 24 brilliantly mad-looking scurvy sea-dogs called Cutlasses, to sway with the rhythm of the waves in perfect unison, as the lightshow sways out of time and in the opposite direction, inducing sea-sickness in all but the strongest of constitutions.
Songs old and new followed, with vocal impressiveness and instrumental virtuosity. Special note here for Lorrie Bell singing the Habenera, while Cook flaunted herself at the audience with moves from which they may never recover. The Cutlasses practiced their swordplay with skill and safety, while tattooed audience members squirmed. Fortunately Celine Dion was cut off just as she got started. As the day wore on, Shadow One was of course replaced by Shadow Two (Phil Bint).
The end of Act Two saw another transformation as the stage hands (Assistant Director Michelle Chalmers and Set Designer Sue Ault, actually) rushed about to lower the rigging, remove the poop-deck furniture and establish a treasure island, complete with buried treasure.
Queen Mozzarlla Boursin de Emmenthal (the extraordinary Heather Cowl MBE) arrived, stately as a galleon and conversed with Jim, and then confronted the Capt’n. Much arguing and digging ensued, until Colour Blind Pugh landed on shore just as Peter & Wendy discovered a treasure chest (not Cook’s).
A swordfight with violence and choreography followed, and Peter eventually disarmed Pugh. The contents of the box were bargained for (with a lovely Deal or no Deal moment) and then Pugh revealed in his key speech how grey his world really was. The Queen listened carefully to the chatter, wondered ‘Could it be?’ several times and then the relationships began to be revealed, as did the missing flag (boy) (girl) (Rozzie Carrie).
Tinkerbell (an energetic and adaptable Wendy Virgo) turned up and made sure everyone fell in love or rediscovered their parents in a frenzy of unsubtle co-incidences.
And once we were aboard Radio Ham, (a pirate radio station), the final dance gained the loud, enthusiastic and generous applause of the audience.
Transferring the show to Hastings was a logistical nightmare (can you have a nightmare, technically, if you don’t ever get to sleep?) with the loss of a vital oboist, the derigging and reinstalling of lighting trusses, an hugely complex transporting regime, the regaining of the oboist (sounds a bit like an epic 17thC poem), a swift visit to A&E for a Pirate, hot dogs, crowds the like of which we’ve never seen before and the professional attitude of a cast of characters sufficient to make the heart proud.
It was an huge undertaking and was another Be That As It May Production of glitz, glamour, fun, laughter and a true demonstration of God’s Family having Fun, which can’t be all bad.